Asian stocks were mostly lower on Thursday as Chinese equities deepened their losses, souring risk sentiment that had improved earlier after the Federal Reserve provided a positive assessment of the U.S. economy. The dollar fell as some in the currency market had hoped the Fed would give a clearer indication that it could raise rates before end-2016.
Spreadbetters forecast a slightly lower open for Britain’s FTSE, Germany’s DAX, and France’s CAC. South Korea’s Kospi and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng both shed 0.4%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which briefly climbed to its highest level since August 2015, clung to gains and was last up 0.1%.
Shanghai fell 0.6% after shedding 1.9% the previous day. News that Chinese regulators are planning a tough clampdown on wealth management products to curb risks to the banking system had weighed heavily on Chinese stocks, with investors still wading through the details.
Japan’s Nikkei declined more than 1%, undermined by a stronger yen and nerves before the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy decision on Friday. With the Fed meeting over, the spotlight fell on the BOJ, under mounting pressure to ease monetary policy and keep abreast of the Japanese government’s large fiscal stimulus plan.
"The best-case scenario for the market is that the BOJ decides to increase government debt purchases without cutting interest rates further into negative territory," said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.
"But the BOJ can’t save face if it does not cut rates into negative territory after it introduced the negative interest rate policy (in January), so we need to brace for such possibility, too."
Wall Street shares ended little changed overnight following the Fed’s policy decision to leave interest rates unchanged. The Fed did say, however, that near-term risks to the U.S. economic outlook had diminished, opening the door for a potential near-term hike in the eyes of many.
But the Fed also noted that inflation expectations were on balance little changed in recent months, and gave no firm indication of whether it would raise rates at its next policy meeting in September.
"While a number of investment banks have increased their internal probability models for a September hike, the interest rate markets have gone the other way and priced out the prospect. The reverberations of this re-pricing can be seen in weakness in the USD and a bold rally in gold," wrote Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne.
The Fed’s latest policy statement steered traders to favour longer-dated U.S. Treasuries over shorter-dated issues, pushing the yields on 10-year notes and 30-year bonds to one and a half week lows as prices rose.
Spot gold hovered near a two-week high of $1,342.18 an ounce touched overnight when it gained 1.4%. Higher interest rates tend to diminish the appeal of non-yielding gold.
The dollar index slipped to a nine-day low of 96.545, pulling back sharply from a four and a half month high of 97.569 scaled early in the week.
The euro, which gained 0.7% overnight, edged up to a nine-day high of $1.1077. The dollar was down 0.6% at 104.75 yen, with caution over potential monetary easing by the BOJ limiting the greenback’s losses. Against the broadly weaker U.S. currency, the Australian dollar was up 0.4% at $0.7524.
U.S. crude rose 0.2% to $42.02 a barrel on bargain hunting after sliding to a three-month low of $41.68 on Wednesday after news U.S. crude and gasoline stocks had surged. Brent crude gained 0.2% to $43.55 a barrel.